A Brief History of Blogging

Blogs have become an integral part of online culture.

Practically everyone reads blogs now, whether they’re “official” news blogs associated with traditional news media, topic-based blogs related to one’s work or hobbies, or blogs purely for entertainment, just about anyone you ask has at least one favorite blog.

But it wasn’t always so. Blogs have a relatively short history, even when compared with the history of the Internet itself.

And it’s only in the past five to ten years that they’ve really taken off and become an important part of the online landscape.


The Early Years

It’s generally recognized that the first blog was Links.net, created by Justin Hall, while he was a Swarthmore College student in 1994. Of course, at that time they weren’t called blogs, and he just referred to it as his personal homepage.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the term “weblog” was coined. The word’s creation has been attributed to Jorn Barger, of the influential early blog Robot Wisdom. The term was created to reflect the process of “logging the web” as he browsed.

1998 marks the first known instance of a blog on a traditional news site, when Jonathan Dube blogged Hurricane Bonnie for The Charlotte Observer.

“Weblog” was shortened to “blog” in 1999 by programmer Peter Merholz. It’s not until five years later that Merriam-Webster declares the word their word of the year.

The original blogs were updated manually, often linked from a central home page or archive. This wasn’t very efficient, but unless you were a programmer who could create your own custom blogging platform, there weren’t any other options to begin with.

During these early years, a few different “blogging” platforms cropped up. LiveJournal is probably the most recognizable of the early sites.

And then, in 1999, the platform that would later become Blogger was started by Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan at Pyra Labs. Blogger is largely responsible for bringing blogging to the mainstream.


The Growth Period

The early 2000s were a period of growth for blogs. In 1999, according to a list compiled by Jesse James Garrett, there were 23 blogs on the internet. By the middle of 2006, there were 50 million blogs according to Technorati‘s State of the Blogosphere report. To say that blogs experienced exponential growth is a bit of an understatement.

Political blogs were some of the most popular early blogs. Some political candidates started using blogs during this time period, including Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.

One important event in the rise of blogging was when bloggers focused on the comments U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said regarding U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond in 2002. Lott, while praising Thurmond, stated that the U.S. would have been better off if Thurmond had been elected President in 1948. During that race, Thurmond was a strong supporter of racial segregation (though his position changed later in his political career). The mainstream media didn’t pick up on the comments and their potential implications until after bloggers broke the story.

In-depth topic blogs were also becoming more popular during this time. They often delved much deeper into current news and pop culture than mainstream media sources, in addition to commenting directly on what traditional media was reporting.

By 2001, there was enough interest in blogging that some how-to articles and guides started cropping up. Now, “meta blogs” (blogs about blogging) make up a sizable portion of the most popular and successful blogs out there.

A number of popular blogs got their start in the early 2000s, including Boing Boing, Dooce, Gizmodo, Gawker (the first major gossip blog to launch), Wonkette, and the Huffington Post. Weblogs, Inc. was started by Jason Calacanis in 2003, and was then sold to AOL for $25 million. It was that sale that helped to cement blogs as a force to be reckoned with rather than just a passing fad.

A couple of major blogging platforms got their start in the early 2000s. Version 1.0 of Movable Type was released in September of 2001.

WordPress was started in 2003, though parts of its development date back to 2001. TypePad was also released in 2003, based on Movable Type.

Some peripheral services to the blogosphere also started in the early 2000s. Technorati, the first major blog search engine, was launched in 2002. Audioblogger, the first major podcasting service, was founded in 2003. The first video blogs started in 2004, more than a year before YouTube was founded.

Also launched in 2003 was the AdSense advertising platform, which was the first ad network to match ads to the content on a blog. AdSense also made it possible for bloggers without huge platforms to start making money from when they first started blogging (though payments to low-traffic blogs weren’t very large).

Once bloggers started making money from their blogs, the number of meta blogs skyrocketed. Bloggers like Darren Rowse (of Problogger.net and Digital-Photography-School.net) and John Chow made sizable amounts of money telling other bloggers how they could turn blogging into a full-time career.

One early event that highlighted the rising importance of blogs was the firing of Heather Armstrong, the blogger behind Dooce, for comments posted on her blog regarding her employer. This event happened in 2002, and sparked a debate over privacy issues, that still hasn’t been sufficiently put to rest by 2011.

“Dooced” became a slang term to describe being fired from one’s job for something you’ve written on your blog, and has made appearances in Urban Dictionary, and even on Jeopardy!


Blogs Reach the Mainstream

By the mid-2000s, blogs were reaching the mainstream. In January of 2005, a study was released saying that 32 million Americans read blogs. At the time, it’s more than ten percent of the entire population. The same year, Garrett M. Graff was granted White House press credentials, the first blogger ever to do so.

A number of mainstream media sites started their own blogs during the mid to late 2000s, or teamed up with existing blogs to provide additional coverage and commentary. By 2004, political consultants, candidates, and mainstream news organizations all began using blogs more prominently. They provided the perfect vehicle for broadcasting editorial opinion and reaching out to readers and viewers.

Mainstream media sources are also teaming up with existing blogs and bloggers, rather than just setting out on their own. Take, for example, the regular posts on CNN.com from Mashable editors and writers. Another good example is the purchase of TechCrunch and associated blogs by AOL, which, while not a traditional media source, is one of the oldest internet companies still in existence.

During this time, the number of blogs grew even more, with more than 152 million blogs active by the end of 2010. Virtually every mainstream news source now has at least one blog, as do many corporations and individuals.


The Rise of Microblogs and Tumblogs

A lot of people only think of Twitter when they think of microblogging, but there are other microblog (also called tumblog) platforms that allow for a more traditional type of blogging experience, while also allowing for the social networking features of Twitter (like following other bloggers).

Tumblr was the first major site to offer this kind of service, starting in 2007. They allow for a variety of different post types, unlike traditional blogging services, which have a one-size-fits-all post format (that allows users to format their posts however they want, including adding multimedia objects).

It also makes it easier for users to reblog the content of others, or to like individual posts (sort of like Facebook’s “like” feature).

Posterous is another, similar service. Launched in 2008, Posterous allows bloggers to set up a simple blog via email, and then submit content either via their online editor or by email.

Posterous is sometimes considered more of a lifestreaming app than a blogging platform, thought it’s technically both.


The Future of Blogging

Eight to ten years ago, blogs were becoming the primary point of communication for individuals online. But with the advent of social media and social networking in the past five years, blogs have become only one portion of an individual’s online persona.

Vlogs and podcasts have also taken on a bigger role in the blogosphere, with a lot of bloggers opting to use primarily multimedia content. Services that cater to these kinds of posts (like Tumblr and Posterous) are likely to keep growing in popularity.

With new services like Quora coming onto the market, there’s the possibility that the blogosphere will shrink, and more people will turn to sites like these to get information. But services like Quora also provide valuable tools for bloggers, as they give insight into what people really want to know about a topic.

Blogs are unlikely to go anywhere in the foreseeable future. But there’s a lot of room for growth and innovation in method in which their content is found, delivered, and accessed.

Written exclusively for WDD by Cameron Chapman

How did you experience the evolution of blogs in your personal life? Share your comments below…

  • http://www.tutorialmode.com/ stephen

    Very interesting, looks like blogging has a long and beautiful future.

  • http://trafficcoleman.com/ TrafficColeman

    Blogs are very young in age but its has become mainstream and every has one..but only a few really have something everyone wants to read..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • http://www.alienblogging.com Raul Sim

    Blogs are great, but they don’t have to stay great; they need to get greater and greater each day. Blogs must become awesome, because this is the future online education format.

    It’s great to look in the past, seeing blogging’s foundation getting built. But it’s time for moving on, it’s time for new ideas and philosophies of a new, more advanced, more awesome blogging to come out (which I know are somewhere out there).

    We got great blogs. Yet, we want more! And even more than that!

    Great making-me-smile post, btw.

  • http://pixeno.com Pixeno Web Host

    Whenever theres a new apple announcement rumored, I always turn to google and search through blog posts.

    I’d hate to think many people will tur to big blog sites in the future rather than keeping a unique blog domain.

  • http://www.kooldotshosting.com/ KoolDot

    Thanks for the heads-up on tumblog!

  • http://www.absolutewebdesign.co.uk Web Design Dan

    Just wish I had enough time to read all the interesting blogs out there mostly i read website design blogs and I have learned so much over the years through the fantastic information people provide.

  • http://www.redheadranting.com/ Jen

    Thanks for the history and a look into the future. Blogging seems to have reached its peak, at least in the traditional format, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

    The thing I love most about blogging is the informal aspect of it as opposed to regular news sites.

  • http://digcms.com John

    Really great article. I got to learn new things from this article. Very inspiring.

  • http://wordpressapi.com Sony

    In 2007 I started blogging inspired by smashingmagazine and your site and some other blog. This article given me really nice information about the blog history.

  • http://www.veztekusa.com Faraz

    A very informative and even interesting article to read.I had never gone through this brief history of blogging so that is really new and very informative for me.Blogging was just almost nothing for me until i started my own blog and got to know that this is keeping the whole world in it.

  • http://pritchardphotos.com Pritchard

    I think sites will continue to mold more into blog oriented sites. Such as this site. Presentation web is becoming a thing of the past and blogs open the platform to conversations, which is largely what drives traffic.

  • http://prabhasgupte.com Prabhas Gupte

    Cannot agree anymore!

    I have been (some level) blogger since 2007. Initially started blogging in my mother-tongue “Marathi”. Recently switched to English blogging.

    I believe blogging platforms with multi-lingual support are the cool thing next door. Wonder if any web service will come up which translates vocal data (podcasts etc) into your choice of language?!

  • http://brazille-idea.com/blogwp/ Tyson Brazille

    I was always skeptic of blogging, yet recently I got down with “wordpress” and the fact is…I like that I can say what I want and hopefully the right minds will take a small segment of time out of their lives and spill some of their thoughts.

    It’s a humbling experience as I’ve noticed that some well known sites with some hundred thousands of viewers daily and they(the site) hardly gets any response to the articles that they post.

    Interesting article here…I wonder how they went from “personal hompage” to “weblog”?

  • http://www.onlinetechworld.com Ako

    I forsee NICHE BLOGGING picking up in next 1-2 years…Blogger may have to focus on specific niche rather than talking on every subject on planet

  • http://www.shearerpainting.com/PaintColors/index.php john shearer

    Thanks for the interesting article. It would have been interesting to see numbers to quantify how many blogs have been created overtime..and maybe the reason behind the no follow tag.

  • http://www.inteliwise.com Virtual Agent

    It seems like everybody has a blog or reads from a blog nowadays, it’s just a matter of picking the best of the lot out there. Reading through this makes me miss my blogger account, I can’t seem to remember my log in details now though.

  • http://www.designsite.ro Frank

    These days everybody has at least one WP blog. Nice article. Thanks!

  • http://www.suruha-freespirit.com Su Hall

    I am thrilled to see a site devoted to blogging. Blogging is new enough that we can still blaze a path, a protocol that would be universal. Though we may never do so, blogs have been so popular, they’re here to stay.
    Being the matriarch of my family, I have a responsibility to keep everyone informed and ‘in the loop’. Blogs suit this purpose very well. I can run through how I/we’ve been, what I/we’re up to and what I/we will be doing soon. I can include photos or any other visual material, as well as links to events or items of interest. Friends and family can respond via ‘comments’. I tell people, “If you want to know what I have been up to, read my blog.” I keep it current by posting at least once a week.
    Sometimes, e-mails sent in mass mailings just aren’t personable enough. What better way?

    I’m looking forward to the opening. Thank you for including blogging among your sites.